In my over-priced New York City, I’ve found a place that executes the most inventive, mouth-watering prix fixe menu for $50 per person; this place is a uniquely democratic culinary gem for the food serious. Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are culinary-badass chefs and owners of Torrisi Italian Specialties. They have received rave reviews for their intimate, 20-seat restaurant on Mulberry Street, except there is a catch: they do not take reservations.
After reading the reviews for Torrisi, my husband and I felt superior to their no-reservation dining dare. We are no-reservation specialists and effortlessly navigate through our city without any reservations insouciantly, especially, since we dine during a ridiculously early hour.
Leisurely, we strolled through Little Italy around 5:45 PM, since the restaurant opens at 6:00 PM, more than generous and sufficient time—so we thought. To our bewilderment, already, the long line had coiled around the corner; perhaps it’s due to the recent accolade they received in TheNewYorkTimes?
We were defeatedly crushed, and crawled back to our own kitchen at home. After three more failed attempts in a one-month period, I pretended to ignore their existence as if they were dead to me. However, Mario, Rich and Torrisi were keywords that were featured ubiquitously in many of the articles I read. I felt them mocking me and I yearned from afar with a mixture of admiration and jealousy.
A few months ago, I came across this article, and sensing my lamenting palate, my husband surprised me with Torrisi’s Turkey Sandwich and Eggplant Parm the next day. As we took our first bites, our eyes twinkled and we sighed deeply.
It was the best Turkey Sandwich we have ever had, it was succulent and moist, sliced into perfect sizes and seasoned to perfection. Crowned with heaps of crisp chiffonade iceberg lettuce, the dollops of their secret sauce enhanced the flavors, instead of drowning them to death. It was sandwiched by the most fluffy, pillowy, buns studded with blonde sesame seeds. We believed in the hype, obviously, they let the main ingredients shine, like in the Eggplant-Parm Sandwich. The essence of bubbling their tomato sauce in its hearth for hours can be tasted in the eggplant, which did not overpower or hide underneath the heavy, melted cheese. We were ready and willing to surrender to the hands of these wicked chefs and pilgrimage our way to their infamous dinner.
When my husband and I decide on a task, there is no messing around. This time we had a mission and we planned it out carefully like 007 agents. Mortifyingly, we planned to do something we had never done before—my husband stood in line, an hour before Torissi opened and he was not alone. He was amongst tribes of the food obsessed and he texted me an update every five minutes. Then, abruptly, around 5:30 I receive the text: “Leave the office now, we are in!”
I hopped on the subway and was there in fifteen minutes. Like well-behaved children entering Sunday school, the line was civil and quiet. There was a smirk on my husband’s face, and in his hushed voice, he whispered the formula for breaking the code to me.
Inside, it’s a dark, intimate, cozy space with an open kitchen and chefs in their whites marching behind the counter. The shelves are stocked with Italian groceries and an entire wall is a chalkboard with scribbles of their daily specials. Their business model is simple and genius; they know exactly what to cook ahead with a pre fixe menu.
We entrusted our dinner destiny in the hands of the chefs’ daily-seasonal menu. They simply dictated what they wanted to feed us. The only decision we had to make? Which one of the two entrees offered that night. The energy here is lovely. Collectively, it’s all about the spirit of food. There are no screaming single gals and no lovers’ quarrels; it’s simply about food and wine.
We were served a seven-course dinner, and thankfully, they are not huge portions; it is truly a tasting menu. And the menu is not for the faint of heart, or for those who like to edit and make their own menu items. If animal products are your foe, this is not the place for you.
We started out with hand-made to order warm mozzarella cheese, which sat on bright chartreuse olive oil, with the precise sprinkles of crunchy of sea salt and two strips of homemade garlic bread—certifiably good. Then, three more small plates of seasonal antipasti strutted out of the kitchen, followed by the pasta, our entrées and the dessert. The Linguini with Razor Clams and Tobasco sauce haunted me for days afterwards and I started to add Tobasco to my very own pasta at home. Their Chicken Diablo was the best I’ve had and I will not attempt to make this at home. I can’t possibly duplicate the sanctified experience. But the best example of a dish that sums up their food religion? Their Long Island Duck Breast Salad. A Maraschino cherry reduction garnished with potato chips: sweet, tangy, salty, gamey, tender and crunchy—explosive flavors partied in my mouth. Carbone and Torissi break the rules, but they always have that old-fashioned tomato sauce bubbling in the kitchen in their souls—plan ahead, it’s well worth the experience.
*****The code for getting in*****
Stand in line no later than 5:00PM, and the line will start forming. At exactly 5:30PM, someone will come out from Torissi and take your name, the number of people in your party and your preferred time—but only for that night. You have a fifteen-minute window to put your name on that list. Befriend or bribe someone who is free around 5:00PM. Let them wait in line for you and have them put your name on the list. Impress the food-possessed in your life with an 8:30 PM dinner at any given night.